Hardly anyone wants to talk about their own mortality. There’s no benefit in tip-toeing around the topic or assuaging ourselves with euphemisms for death. No matter if one is a king or a peasant, or how great or meaningless one’s contributions are, in the end we’re all just a pile of carbon. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and all that. The most we can hope for is to leave a legacy, a spirit, for our heirs to follow.
The concept of mortality is certainly not new to me. But like most everyone else, I don’t think about it unless I have to, and recently, I had to. Earlier this summer I contacted an attorney to have a will drawn up. Since I have no spouse, children, or direct heirs, dying intestate (ie, without a will) would create quite a legal mess for my surviving friends and family. This process coldly reminded me that it’s not a maybe. I’m going to die, someday. If I really care about the people in my circle, and I truly do, why not make it easy for them?
When no one speaks your name.
Aside from accepting our own eventual deaths, it’s even more difficult to realize that at some point our names and memory will be lost forever. Somehow, somewhere, your name will be spoken by someone for the last time.
Names such as William Shakespeare, Jesus Christ, Napoleon, George Washington, and various monarchs are timeless. We still know and talk about historical figures who have not walked the Earth for hundreds or even thousands of years. In another thousand years, they will likely still be relevant.
But I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about ordinary people like me, and probably you too. After my death, loved ones will likely often mention my name. But as they also die off there will be fewer and fewer people around to remember and talk about me. Eventually, there will be no one.
When that moment comes will be different for everyone. Due to the internet, records of our lives could linger far beyond our biological function. It’s entirely possible a curious distant descendant will look for me in obscure archived on line documents. It may take hundreds of years, but someday, my name will be spoken for the last time and at that point I will truly be forgotten.
Every single run down, neglected, abandoned cemetery was once pristine and well tended. Loved ones regularly visited and caretakers maintained the site. Little by little the mourners stop visiting, the caretakers fall away, and nature reclaims the place. The gravestones become weathered and illegible. No one will remember the souls in the graves. This is the fate of all cemeteries; it’s a metaphor for what will become of all of us.
Your legacy can live even if your name doesn’t.
If this sounds dark & disheartening, have hope because although our names and memories may be finite, attitude, spirit, and legacy can last forever. What you do for others will have an endless ripple effect. If you were kind to others, if you were helpful, even in a small way, that spirit will carry forward. The direct beneficiaries of your good deeds will in turn “pay it forward” and so on and so on. In that regard, you really will “live forever”. Of course, not everyone will be grateful for your kindness, and not all of your acts of charity will be perpetuated, but if you are consistent in your goodwill it will rub off on enough people to have a net-positive effect.
Who we are and what we mean to others is not confined to words and the direct memory of others. More importantly, we should seek to leave a positive legacy for others to replicate after our names and life stories are forgotten. Goodness does not need to have a name attached to it.
I was on vacation, rocketing west across Illinois on my motorcycle. The day’s mission was to pick up Illinois Route 2 in Rockford and take it down to Sterling. It’s a beautiful, scenic, twisty road that hugs the Rock River. I had not been that way in many years and was looking forward to revisiting a personal favorite. The weather was eighty-five degrees, sunny, no rain for three states in every direction. My motorcycle was compliant and smooth. Clipping down I-88 at at 75 miles per hour and 5800 RPM out of the engine, all systems were normal. My mood was as well tuned as the motorcycle below me.
My plans were firm until the moment I passed a sign on 88 near DeKalb, IL: “Northern Illinois University exit Annie Glidden Rd.” Successfully operating a motorcycle requires a very high awareness of one’s physical environment. A side effect of that is an awareness of oneself, a Zen-like intuition of soul & spirit you cannot get from driving a car. Whether they realize it or not, motorcyclists are also philosophers, When on a motorcycle no plan is ever “firm”. Something inside me said to take the exit. I listened to my inner voice.
Exiting north onto Annie Glidden Rd., the first thing I noticed was the road was a lot wider. There were many new businesses. The Bottle Store, a popular liquor store that was famous for displaying hundreds of confiscated fake IDs (some of which were hilariously bad), was now a CVS Pharmacy.
Mixed in with the new were familiar old sights: Dumpy student apartments, The Junction Diner, the Evans Fieldhouse. There were many new buildings, but I was startled by how much had not changed. They rearranged some of the parking lots, but 80% of the place was the same as it was back in the late 1980s. I didn’t intend to stop and walk around. I just wanted to do a quick drive-by and roll on to Rockford. Then that voice came back. I steered the motorcycle towards Reavis Hall, home base of the English Department. northern Illinois university homecoming
It’s very difficult to park legally at Northern Illinois University without a permit. I stopped my motorcycle in front of Reavis, cut the engine, and dropped the kickstand. It was summer; school was not in session and the Covid virus was keeping most of the staff at home, so I figured it didn’t matter. I dismounted the bike, removed my helmet, and for the first time in over three decades I was standing on the NIU campus.
The place had a familiar yet creepy vibe. Familiar because it was mostly the way I remember it. Creepy because other than the occasional jogger, there were no people around. Feeling like an undergraduate again, I walked up to Reavis Hall. The door was locked. I looked through the window. Everything was the same: The wooden doors on the rooms with stenciled numbers. The dated tile floor. This was the building where I had spent hundreds of hours studying, rejoicing in successes and lamenting struggles. It’s where professors like Dr. Garrab and Dr. Van Cromphout (both deceased now) impressed me with their knowledge. n
I felt like a benevolent spirit drifting undetected through Reavis Hall.
I wondered if Reavis 214 was still the undergraduate advising office. I spent many hours in RH214 talking to Dr. James Miller, the undergrad director in my time. He was responsible for shepherding us through our degree requirements and steering us around our own screw ups. About a year after I graduated, I sent Dr. Miller a lengthy thank you letter. I don’t know if he is still alive. If he is, he’d probably be in his 90s, or very close to it. Leaning on a bench outside the building, I took a few moments to reflect. That building was the setting for an important part of my life. I was grateful. northern Illinois university homecoming
After walking the area for a while, I was surprised that a guy in a motorcycle suit roaming around peeking in windows had not attracted any attention from the police. I guess I really was alone. During my exploration, I found one of the doors to Reavis Hall was unlocked! I could not believe it! It was as if fate had left the door unlocked just for me. I nervously stepped inside.
northern Illinois university homecoming
The building was like a time capsule. Except for a laser printer and some recycling bins in the hallway, everything was exactly as I remember. The only significant change was a wheelchair ramp and an elevator. Even the faculty directory, the old style kind with white plastic letters hand-placed into a black backing board, was there. I didn’t recognize a single name. The vending machines remained, upgraded over the years but in the same spot near the door. The building was well maintained. Very clean, no signs of neglect. There was an eerie quiet. I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the place. I didn’t see or hear anyone. I felt like a benevolent spirit drifting undetected through Reavis Hall.
I wanted to take my time and soak it all in, but keeping in mind my motorcycle was illegally parked and I was probably not supposed to be in the building, I felt hurried. I walked the entire length of the second floor until I came to Reavis 214. My question was answered. Not only is it still the undergraduate advising office, but it still had the same lettering in the window. At that point, I figured I had pushed my luck far enough and I better leave before I get into a situation that might require posting bail. northern Illinois university homecoming
I wasn’t done with my unplanned quest just yet. I pointed my motorcycle toward Grant Towers South dormitory, which was my “home” for two years. This area was desolate and empty too. Grant South gave mixed messages. It generally looked like it had not been used in a while, yet showed some signs of life such as a working vending machine and a clean but empty lobby. There were no unlocked doors but it was easy to see through the large windows. northern Illinois university homecoming
The best thing I got out of living in Grant South was my friendship with Jay. I met Jay on my very first day at NIU. We clicked immediately and have been close friends ever since. He lives in Arkansas now; I video called him so he could be a part of this experience and see what Grant South is like now. We reminisced for quite a while about our younger lives there as I showed him as much as I could. Jay is more serious & thoughtful than he will admit. His insight was the last necessary element of my ad hoc journey of time and place. My conversation with him completed the circle. northern Illinois university homecoming
The motorcycle pulled me down the entrance ramp to the tollway with the campus behind me no longer pulling back. As I left NIU for what will probably be the last time in my life, I felt a sense of satisfaction. I graduated in 1989 with a BA degree in English. No longer an aloof & immature student, I returned a generation later as a responsible, successful, functioning adult.
I grew and learned from my mistakes. I evolved into a better person because of my time at NIU. Perhaps unconsciously I felt I still had something to prove. Maybe I needed to show the ghosts of NIU what had become of me? It seems now I am a something of a ghost myself. Like a wandering spirit who found a resolution I didn’t know I needed, I can finally let go and move on. This motorcycle philosopher took a thirty year detour and never made it to Rockford. northern Illinois university homecoming
It’s easy to be sympathetic to the concerns of children. They don’t have the maturity and experience to address problems the way older people do. But what about when children are forced (or coerced) into an adult world? How much blame, if any, should we then assign to them when they find themselves in over their head? The case of teen climate activist Greta Thunberg stretches the question of who to blame to an extreme, and the fault lies in places no one is talking about.
For those who have been living in a cave for the last few months, sixteen year old Greta Thunberg became a celebrity by starting “climate strikes” at her school. These protests have spread worldwide, and Ms. Thunberg is the face of the movement…for now. I say “for now” because she is being exploited by the climate change alarmist industry. Thunberg doesn’t know it yet, but the day will come when she is no longer useful, at which time she will be kicked to the curb.
Although I hardly ever agree with liberals, this time they got it right: It is wrong to trash talk children.
I don’t intend any of the following as an insult or a put-down. I’m just stating some plain truths: Greta Thunberg is not a scientist or engineer. She has no advanced training or professional expertise in any field. She has not invented, discovered, or researched anything, nor solved any major problem. She’s an authority on nothing. On the issue of climate change, she has yet to utter even one single original thought. Everything she says has been said before, which leads any honest person to conclude that she’s just an actress, memorizing and reciting a script prepared by others. This is fitting since both her parents are in show business.
So why are the climate change disciples gushing over this literal know-nothing? Quite simply, Greta Thunberg is the latest shiny object. And that’s where I defend her. Here in the United States, the Democrats and the left are livid with the Republicans and the right for, among many things, conservatives’ verbal abuse of this child. Although I hardly ever agree with liberals, this time they got it right: It is wrong to trash talk children. Kids have enough problems with bullying in their own peer group; adults should know better.
But liberals are not the heroes in this story. Actually they’re more at fault than the conservatives. Greta Thunberg’s defenders are quick to point out that she has Aspergers Syndrome and is on the autism spectrum and is therefore deserving of special treatment. Ok, I’m on board with that. But here comes the obvious question no one is asking: Why is a person with a neurological/cognitive disability in addition the the usual immaturity and lack of judgement that goes with teenagerhood being thrust into this role in the first place? Couldn’t they find a more stable patron saint?
If Greta Thunberg is an innocent special needs child who should be protected, then her adult handlers should not be placing her in highly stressful public situations where she’s not anywhere near prepared to cope.
Conversely, if she’s a fearless visionary with a wisdom & maturity far beyond her years, then she and her followers should toughen up and learn a very adult lesson: If you put yourself out there for controversial causes, it’s expected that people are going to tear you apart. Big kids play by big kid rules, and the rules are not always fair.
She can’t have it both ways. Thunberg either needs to drop out of public life and return home to get the kind of help and attention that people like her need, or forge ahead and take the knocks as they come knowing that the real world does not cut any breaks. I do not believe she is capable of making that decision right now. That’s why there is an asterisk * in the title of this article. I’ll defend her, but it’s conditional.
While I’m not thrilled with the conservatives who are harassing her, I’m far more disgusted with the liberals who, knowing full well of her neurological issues, are exploiting her as a throwaway pawn and don’t concern themselves with how this experience will effect her long term well being. The climate change movement is guilty of a high form of child abuse.
To the left: Stop brainwashing her! To the right: Stop picking on her! To her parents: What the hell were you thinking!? Until it’s decided whether Greta Thunberg is a delicate flower or lionhearted heroine, can we just think about what’s best for her, not what’s best for our respective causes, and call a truce?
So the climate change strikers had their big day on September 20. I’m not sure exactly what they were “striking” against, but that’s not the direction I want to go. I have come up with a plan –a plan that can be easily implemented with no government or industry involvement– that will make a real difference in reducing carbon emissions and by extension reverse climate change, assuming you believe in such things.
My climate change challenge is intended mostly for teenagers, but any climate acolyte can do this.
The challenge is is very clear & straightforward: Close all your social media accounts, and I do mean all of them. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and all the rest inhale a lot of electrical power that generates carbon emissions. I do not have exact numbers, but I’ll bet Twitter alone is responsible for millions of kilowatt-hours every year. It takes a lot of juice to push those routers and servers and data centers.
Every time you click “post” a little more carbon is released into the precious world you are tying to save from climate change. If social media use goes down, so too will the demand for the resources and energy required to run them. This is not a big ask. After all, Snapchat is not oxygen. So for the love of Mother Earth, I call on all climate change strikers to close their social media accounts and promise to use them nevermore.
Of course I do not expect even one single climate striker to accept my challenge even though it is a very modest sacrifice. The climate strikers spent the entire day shrieking about how the government, industry, and everyone else must “do something” to reverse climate change, and I’ll bet very few of them ever considered what they should be personally doing themselves.
That is the cult of climate change: They “fight” for their cause without any expectation of paying even a small individual cost. I wonder how many tons of discarded protest signs and latté cups the strikers left behind. I wonder how many of them stopped for fast food before or after the protest. I wonder how many of them actually made meaningful changes in their lifestyle before demanding the rest of us change ours. My intuition says they gave up nothing, except maybe a day at school.
While hypocrisy is bad all by itself, it’s much worse when an entire belief system cannot exist without it.
Through mystical nebulous logic, climate change strikers do not call out the celebrities who live in 10,000 square foot mansions and fly around on private jets to make speeches telling me my pickup truck is the reason young people have no future. For their part, the celebrities claim absolution because they bought carbon offsets.
In woke culture, carbon offsets is the ridiculous doctrine that belching carbon doesn’t count if you pay someone to plant trees in Brazil on your behalf, or some similar penance. It’s the equivalent of throwing trash all over the neighborhood and saying it’s ok because you “offset” it by donating to the local park beautification fund.
While hypocrisy is bad all by itself, it’s much worse when an entire belief system cannot exist without it. The climate change disciples still want Starbucks and Uber rides and a house full of electronics and will go to amusing extremes to explain why they can continue to have these things while someone else is on the hook to do anything hard. They want the world to change, but not their world. Justified hypocrisy is the delusional glue that keeps the useful idiots in line. Without it, the entire cult of climate change collapses under the weight of reality.
For the record, I’ve been a vegetarian for 33 years, have solar panels on my house, and recycle. Is that enough to offset my pickup truck (a truck, by the way, that is driven less than fifty miles per week!)? If there’s a “Pope” of climate change (Al Gore?), I hereby petition him or her to grant me the indulgence.
I’ll start taking the climate change strikers seriously when they start living their lives like it’s a serious issue.
This article was originally posted on my radio blog, Off Grid Ham. It’s important enough to warrant recycling here.
My point can be stated quite succinctly. Recent world events and the rise of dictators and tyrants necessitate expanding international shortwave broadcasts from the United States and other democratic nations.
In the beginning.
Shortwave broadcasts started in earnest during World War II. In the following Cold War years they were a potent tool used by the United States for expressing American views to the world. Some called it legitimate diplomacy, some called it cultural outreach, and others called it propaganda. It was really a little of all these things. Powerful transmitters sent pro-American news and information in dozens of languages to millions of foreign listeners. Western democracies such as Great Britain, France, and Australia also presented their version of democracy via international radio. It was a two way street: Nations not friendly to the United States put their side of the story on the air too. We were in a radio Cold War.
The USA and other Western democracies sent news and information all over the world to listeners whose governments were opposed to citizens being exposed to any free media not cleared through state channels. Radio Marti was dedicated solely to broadcasting anti-communist content to Cuba. Radio Free Europe & Radio Liberty fulfilled a similar mission against the former Soviet Union and to a lesser extent, the Middle East. Day and night, voices of freedom beamed around the world to the oppressed. The shortwave broadcasts were effective. Why else would tyrannical governments try to jam the transmissions and/or punish anyone caught listening?
And then the internet happened.
Since the 1990s, Voice of America closed two of their three transmitter sites in the United States. The venerable International Service of the BBC, the only entity that came even close to having a reach equal to the VOA, has become a shell of its former self. Australia, The Netherlands, France, and other nations who used to have a strong presence on the shortwave bands have cut back drastically or gone completely dark.
Of special note, recent data has communist China broadcasting more than two times as much international programming as Voice of America. We are being beaten at our own game.
The Golden Years of shortwave is well behind us, thanks to the internet. Computers propagate news and information more quickly. Internet audio quality is far superior to shortwave broadcasts and the listening audience can leave comments, repost articles, and actively participate as opposed to listen passively.
But there’s a catch.
The internet affords little privacy, anonymity, or security. IP addresses can be tracked. It’s fairly easy to know who is accessing what content. Plus, the internet depends on a complex system of routers, servers, and data circuits to connect them. Oppressive governments can and do control what information is accessible within their borders and severely punish anyone who crosses the line.
Shortwave broadcasts have no borders.
The success of the shortwave broadcasts of yesteryear was due to the fact that radio has no borders and defeats attempts at censorship. No one can know for sure who is listening because a received signal cannot be tracked to any individual. Somebody, somewhere can tell when and where you do anything on the internet. But if you had a radio on, who would know? Unless you have Amazon Alexa or some similar connected device eavesdropping in the background no one can tell what you listen to on the radio.
For all the arguments against shortwave broadcasts vs. the internet, archaic analog radio has two major attributes that the internet cannot match: Anonymity and no need for infrastructure that can be controlled by adversarial governments.
It’s not that hard.
The technology that makes shortwave broadcasts work is over one hundred years old and relatively inexpensive. There is nothing to invent, nothing to innovate, and nothing to discover. A nation such as the United States has the resources to put stations on the air in a matter of months. It really is that easy.
Voice of America, Radio Marti, and Radio Free Europe still make regular broadcasts but are far from their former glory. Overall activity on the shortwave bands is a mere fraction of what it was in pre-internet times. That leaves people living under dictatorships with no options other than state run trash media.
Oppressive regimes exist in North Korea, Venezuela, Russia, China, most of Africa, and the entire Middle East except for Israel. The United States should take the lead and immediately restore local language shortwave broadcasts to these areas.
A legacy of freedom and liberty.
For decades, oppressed people all over the world found hope and inspiration in shortwave broadcasts from free nations. The internet allows a depth and breadth of content that makes analog radio seem like driving a horse & buggy down the information superhighway. Unfortunately, none of that whizz-bang technology matters if tyrannical governments are blocking the highway. Shortwave radio is its own “highway”.
If the United States and other democratic nations seek to establish peace and freedom and liberty in subjugated areas of the world, they must send their message over a medium that will arrive at the intended destination without censorship or interference. I don’t particularly trust my government…but I trust other governments even less.
The victims of tyrants, dictators, communism, socialism, religious persecution, and slavery need and want to hear truthful information. They want to know the free world is thinking about them. We can also put dictators and tyrants on notice that their oppression will not go unanswered. Shortwave broadcasts achieve all these goals with less complexity and more reliability than the internet.
We shouldn’t be too concerned about the transmission facilities ever becoming unneeded. When the current generation of scumbag governments fade away, more will come up behind them. No one should think radio alone will rid the world of evil. The mission of the shortwave broadcasts will never be complete.
I am calling on every democratized country, starting with the United States, to put the transmitters back online! We should then build as many radio stations as needed to cover every single square inhabited inch of this planet with an unstoppable voice of freedom and liberty.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on my radio blog, Off Grid Ham.
We rolled into the small town of Spiro on an early April evening. The sun was out; it was warm and the skies were clear for as far as one could see across the Oklahoma plain. It was about as heartland as it gets. If you drove through Spiro and never drifted off Highway 271, you’d probably think it was just another nondescript dot on the map where corn and cattle collide. I would soon find out that the scene was deceptive. We turned off 271 and the life lesson started.
One only has to go a few hundred feet from Highway 271 to find the life lesson this town teaches. We turned down a street into a neighborhood that was obviously not wealthy, or even lower middle class. The character of the houses progressively degraded until we came to another street that literally and metaphorically went no where. If GPS had not told us where to turn we might not have ever found the place. We couldn’t identify name of the street because the sign was so badly rusted and worn.
As we looked for our destination, me and my friends just gave each other uncomfortable glances; very little was said but we were all thinking the same thing. The awkward silence was broken when I acknowledged what no one wanted to be the first to say but could no longer ignore: This place is the definition of poverty and need and hardship.
One house had a net, not a screen door, hanging over the front entrance. A few small kids, the oldest was maybe five, were running around unsupervised. There was mud and junk cars everywhere. We found our stop. It was run down and neglected, just like all the rest, with a shabby trailer in the yard. I did not know it yet, but that ended life lesson, chapter one.
An old man smiled and warmly greeted us as we walked up to the house. Some grubby boys, maybe 8-10 years old, were roughhousing on the patio and making a lot of noise like boys often do. The wife was serving punch and sugary snacks, the kind of stuff that kids should not have very often. These boys probably ate junk food most of the time as all except one of them were visibly overweight & hyperactive. They’re not even teenagers yet and already well on their way to diabetes and heart disease and tooth decay.
My guess is the old man and his wife do not have the resources or awareness or time to make healthy meals, so they default to processed junk that is inexpensive and requires little or no preparation. These kids are living proof that one can be both overweight and underfed at the same time, and their socioeconomic status has a lot to do with it. End of life lesson, chapter two.
I had never met these people before this encounter. I had travelled from out of state to visit my friends, who live a short drive from Spiro. They planned this road trip in advance and since I happened to be in town, I went along for the ride. The life lesson continued on the drive home when my friends put into context who these people were and why we went to see them.
My friends met these kids incidentally through a professional relationship with the old man, who happened to be the kids’ grandfather. My friends are goodhearted and selfless people, almost to a fault. They recognized that this family was in need and decided to step up. The purpose of the trip was to bring gifts for the kids, pay them a short visit, and let them know that someone cared. Their altruism must be having an effect. When they got out of the car the kids excitedly ran up to them and hugged them tightly.
These kids, particularly the younger boy, have lived a horrible life. Their parents were no longer in the picture and the children had recently been removed from an severely abusive foster home. They were placed with the grandparents who themselves were struggling. To know that the environment they are living in now is an upgrade from where they came is one of the most unsettling thoughts I’ve had in a long time. These kids are still not in a good situation, but they are with grandparents who care and are doing the very best they can with what little they have. They absolutely have my respect.
That brings us to life lesson, chapter three. There is no greater teacher than reality. In my entire working middle class life I had never personally witnessed poverty. Oh sure, I’ve seen it in the media and maybe from traveling through various towns and neighborhoods, but I never stopped, got out of the car, and visited a poor person’s house. This was new to me, and very disquieting. It was no longer just a distant concept. It was right there in front of me. People really do live this way!
The other reality check was the strong spirit that makes the United States as great as it is. The old man and his wife did not have much going for them, yet here they were, doing everything possible to give these kids a decent life, one day at a time. And although the life these kids were getting was not good, it was the best Grandfather had to offer.
Not everyone grows up in a stable, loving home. Not everyone has a comfortable middle class existence. These are people who at their roots are not really that much different than me. Their wealth, or lack of it, does not determine how much they care about their kids. They are not giving up, and neither should anyone else. That is the life lesson one gets when one wanders off Highway 271 in Spiro, Oklahoma.
World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.
This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.
One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.
Uncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.
Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.
They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.
After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.
We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.
But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.
When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.
Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.
It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.
Some things are so ubiquitous that no one notices them until they are gone. And when they go, it leaves a hole so great that gratitude for the good times is little solace, especially when you know deep inside the party was over a long time ago. I had such a moment myself recently on the unexpected news that a legendary radio station of my adolescence, WLUP 97.9 FM “The Loop” in Chicago is no more.
It’s not possible to overstate the importance to Chicago lore The Loop had, and by extension American culture. On air since 1977, it almost immediately became the Mecca of hard rock radio. Disco was the big deal in 1977, and The Loop was built –literally– on a foundation of “disco demolition”. From there it became a key player in changing musical tastes not just in the local market but nationally as well.
On July 12, 1979 WLUP personality Steve Dahl, one of the original “shock jocks,” hosted a “disco demolition” night between games at a Chicago White Sox doubleheader baseball game. In this publicity stunt, he blew up a huge stack of disco records, and I don’t mean metaphorically. The crowd, 50,000 strong and more than double the expected attendance, went completely berserk. Chaos broke out and riot police had to clear the park. The second game of the doubleheader was cancelled. The event sealed The Loop’s place as the home for kick ass rock & roll and is still regarded as the moment disco fell off the cultural map.
Publicity stunts aside, The Loop delivered on its promise day after day to hundreds of thousands of devoted listeners. Morning personality Jonathon Brandmeier pioneered a clean comedy legacy worthy of an entirely separate discussion and was one of the first to be successful at a talk/music format. The rest of WLUP’s lineup became household names: Patti Haze, Bobby Skafish, and all the rest were familiar voices to young people all across the city and suburbs. As a student at Naperville North High School in the 1980’s, I could walk through the student parking lot on a warm spring day and hear WLUP blasting from pretty much every car in the place. You weren’t cool if you didn’t listen to The Loop. Even the dorks and nerds were dialed in.
The weekend lineup was tastefully seasoned with programming such as the highly innovative Headphones Only (featuring songs with elaborate stereophonic production effects) and the Dr. Dimento parody show. Back when I was persuing a career in broadcast radio, WLUP was the holy grail. I’d listen to Bobby Skafish every afternoon and think to myself, That lucky bastard! I want his job!
In the years since, The Loop’s vibe was dulled by corporate takeovers, play lists compiled by algorithms and not actual rock fans, and scripted jocks. The music became repetitive and predictable. WLUP was no longer something special. All the compelling programming that made listeners beg for more was chopped and The Loop became just another generic classic rock format that had nothing to distinguish it from all the rest. At the very end, WLUP’s owners were facing bankruptcy.
The devoted listeners, including me, left because the product started to suck.
The practical part of me says it’s not sensible that a top ten radio station for over forty years in a market as big as Chicago cannot make money. But the emotional part of me –the music fan– knows damn well why they bit the dust: The Loop lost, or rather, sold, its soul. The captivating voices and sincere concern for putting out a great product 24x7x365 were gone.
Many will blame it on internet streaming, SiriusXM radio, podcasts, or whatever. The truth is, The Loop could have remained successful if it had stayed with what gave it a huge cult following in the first place. In that regard, WLUP hasn’t been cool for at least twenty years. Media critics largely blame it on my demographic: White males, 18-54 years old with disposable income who have largely blown off traditional radio because they are willing to pay for a commercial free product, even if it is a product that lacks creativity.
These hypotheses are not entirely wrong. I haven’t regularly listened to broadcast radio in years, and neither have any of my friends. And why should we? They aren’t offering anything I can’t get by hitting the “shuffle” button on my smart phone. If broadcasters expect me to listen to banal commercials half the time, the least they could do is make the other half, the programming, good enough that I don’t mind sitting through the commercials!
Maybe if I had not been an “early adopter” of SiriusXM. Maybe if my smart phone wasn’t loaded with Rush and Steely Dan records. Maybe if I didn’t have three music streaming apps, two of which I am gladly paying for. But for all this, I’d still be listening to classic rock radio. And but for classic rock radio sliding into a pit of clueless mediocrity, none of these new technologies would have ever grabbed my attention, much less my money. I’m not going to let the critics guilt trip me over a hypothetical chicken-or-egg theory. The devoted listeners, including me, left because the product started to suck.
I would feel much worse about losing WLUP if it was still cool, but like the elderly rock god who long ago lost his gritty edge and is making a fool of himself trying to keep his legend alive, The Loop in its latter days was a pathetic empty shell of its former greatness. It should have gracefully went out on top when it had the chance. Yet there is nothing empty about what the original WLUP meant to me and my peers. The Loop of yore helped define who we are. It was a reason to be excited and engaged about radio and music and being young & alive. That’s The Loop I will always remember.
It was so fast, but so grand! The total solar eclipse of 2017 was long anticipated and especially exciting because it went from coast to coast and gave hundreds of millions of Americans a rare chance to see firsthand the wonders of nature. A solar eclipse is an impressive stellar dance with little bit of luck thrown in. If there is a astronomical jackpot, a total solar eclipse is the big prize.
There are accounts in the Bible where God makes the Sun stand still (Joshua 10:1-15) and go backwards (Isaiah 38:8). There is zero scientific evidence that these events literally happened, and I doubt an absolute God would make a cosmically enormous exception to the laws of physics that He Himself set in place just to prove Himself to a human (walking on water and burning bushes notwithstanding), but astronomers have plausibly attributed these accounts to eclipses.
Now imagine a time when mankind had no scientific understanding of the solar system. There were no telescopes, no computers, no way to collect, process or record large amounts of complex data. Very few people were educated, and the ones that were did not know much by today’s standards. In that context it would not be a big stretch to believe a solar eclipse was the Sun “standing still” or “going backwards” or going through some phenomenon that would be ascribed to a miracle of the Deity because there was no other explanation.
But what was missed in the festival atmosphere that most eclipse-watchers took part in last Monday is that a solar eclipse is the work of a Deity! If you believe that the entire universe was created by God, then it only makes sense that a solar eclipse was purposely engineered into the plan. If you believe the universe was not intelligently designed we are all the winners of a cosmic lottery, then your faith in mathematical probability is infinitely greater than my faith in God. That one star and one moon among countless quadrillions can line up to produce a moving shadow on a nearby inhabited planet –and it’s all due to pure random chance– is more than my mortal mind can accept.
A solar eclipse is a way of demonstrating that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Yes, of course the event has a totally logical explanation solidly based in physics and geometry. But where did physics and geometry come from? It has been there from the moment God created the universe. Mankind did not invent science…it was discovered.
God is not a magician. He placed all these unmovable laws of science in place to achieve His higher purpose and show us humans that He is in control. It is takes some serious cognitive disconnect for one to say they believe in God, but the universe happened by chance. A random god is not really a god.
Celebrating the solar eclipse does not require one to either reject religion or reject science. The non-religious will use accounts from the Bible such as Joshua or Isaiah to dispute and even mock those who believe in God. What the non-believers miss in their own cognitive disconnect is that these stories were created by uneducated people who did not know anything about astronomy. The glaring scientific errors in Joshua and Isaiah do not alter the larger point of these Biblical lessons: Those who witnessed these events were so moved by an act of God demonstrating His science that they recorded their observations so others could experience the marvel of His work.
Today hundreds of millions of people still find hope and inspiration in Bible stories from thousands of years ago. Believers know exactly where –and from whom– the solar eclipse comes. Everyone else is just not paying attention.
I was at the store last Sunday, and it being Father’s Day, all the usual accessories for the occasion were on full display. What caught my attention was that according to the selection of greeting cards, at some point it was decided that Father’s Day should also extend to uncles, older brothers, women in same sex relationships, and even pet owners. What was supposed to be a simple and understated day of gratitude to fatherhood has been transformed into yet another catch-all “everyone gets a trophy” event dedicated to “inclusion & diversity.” I’ll let my readers draw their own conclusions about the political inclinations of those who think this revolution is good idea.
I’m having a hard time relating to single moms, same-sex female couples with children, uncles, brothers, and pet owners (yes, pet owners!) who think they should be under the fatherhood umbrella and therefore merit a pat on the back on Father’s Day. It’s not that these people don’t do anything meaningful. And it’s not that I don’t empathize with the problems they face, which are just as real as anyone else’s problems. And it’s not that they can’t be a wonderfully positive influence on children. It’s that they’re not a father! Jeeze, people! Does this really need to be explained? Apparently, it does.
Living in a society where everyone wants to be in the pageant but no one wants to watch it makes me wonder how far afield has fatherhood gone that huge swaths of society has become oversensitive marshmallows because they were excluded from a holiday.
They remind me of a four year old screeching at a birthday party because he’s not the birthday kid and not the center of attention. The version of fatherhood I was raised under was fortified with the concept that not everything has to be about me, that I’m not the center of the universe, and (to the horror of the snowflake crowd) sometimes I’m going to be left out.
And here’s the anachronistic kicker: My Dad believes, and I concur, that not having your way every now and then builds character. If the adults no longer believe this and have become the grown up version of a four year old at a birthday party, how can anyone expect the children to figure it out? The progressive quest for everyone never to suffer even a moment of discomfort or exclusion has reached a point where one cannot tell the difference between truth and an article fromThe Onion.
Unknown to my childhood self, my dad would sometimes purposely let me be the outsider, not because he enjoyed seeing me struggle, but because he wanted me to learn things for myself and find my own place in the world. It was his chance to guide me through the experience and better prepare me for a future where those around me are not particularly concerned about my feelings.
And wow, what a future that turned out to be! Several decades removed from childhood, I’ve discovered that Dad was right: I’m not the center of the universe! Imagine that! Judging by the Father’s Day greeting card selection, it seems many others have not been taught this concept.
I doubt this goofy social justice fad of extending fatherhood honors to pretty much everyone is going to end, but the next generation would be much better off if the adults would stop trying to blow the candles out on someone else’s cake.